IS Academy Lecture: Governance for development in Africa: what’s the problem and what’s next?

Seminar date: 
19 November 2008
Place:   Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague (please bring identification)

Speaker(s): David Booth (Overseas Development Institute, London)

David Booth is head of the ODI research program 'Power, Politics in Africa"

David Booth is a sociologist and was formerly Professor of Development Studies at the University of Wales, Swansea. He has published on social development theory, including Rethinking Social Development (1994) and on political and social issues in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. 

His current research projects are on state responsiveness to poverty and the politics of PRSPs, with fieldwork in Uganda, Ghana and Bolivia. Other work is concerned with PRS monitoring, Poverty and Social Impact Analysis and assessing the evaluability of general budget support as a modality of poverty-focused aid.

Registration is obligatory. If you have registered but are unable to attend please inform us as soon as possible.

At the core of international thinking about policy approaches in Africa, there is an empty space. High-level declarations on support to Africa typically promise greatly increased financial inputs conditional upon greater African efforts to lead the development process and improve governance. The implication is that someone, somewhere knows how to bring about developmental governance in Africa, and that an indigenous development dynamic will be simple to achieve if only Africa's leaders try a little harder. The truth, however, is that no one really knows how to build the type of governance that Africa needs. And if greater efforts were likely to be enough on their own, the problem would have been solved long ago.

Donor agencies are much more aware than they used to be of the importance of understanding the deep politics of the countries they work in. The adoption of Strategic Governance and Corruption Assessments (SGACA) by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one of several signs of this trend. This is good. Better understanding is likely to result in fewer mistakes being made. But it is a safe prediction that country-by-country political sensitisation of the SGACA kind will not crack the problem. It will not create the conditions for development aid to become effective in Africa. It will not provide what is so spectacularly missing from the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action as manifestos for aid effectiveness. It will not, therefore, make aid budgets easier to defend.

Formulating a coherent Africa policy means, in important respects, going back to the drawing board. It calls for increased dialogue between policy makers and researchers. And it implies a new research focus. The best research on Africa already provides some of the keys to a more realistic perspective, but it is better at explaining why things have gone wrong in the past than at identifying pathways for the future. There is a need for more systematic investigation focused specifically on identifying institutional reforms that could work for development and poverty reduction under the actual conditions of Africa today. The Africa Power and Politics Programme, a consortium of international research groups and think-tanks led by ODI (, is taking up this challenge. We aim to develop a new body of theory on African development, based on empirical research and on the initial hypothesis that greater efforts are needed to "work with the grain" of African societies. The research promises to provide the solid foundation that Africa policy currently lacks.